Ling hits winner as Panthers nab first-leg victory
NOTTINGHAM Panthers had to work hard against a below-strength Fife Flyers before easing to a 3-2 win in their Challenge Cup quarter final first leg in Kirkcaldy last night.
The cup holders and five-time winners of the competition had goals from Matt Francis and David Clarke to thank for their first period lead.
But Flyers hit back to level in the second, only for leading scorer David Ling to net Panthers winner with ten minutes remaining in a game that got increasingly feisty.
It sets up next Wednesday's second leg perfectly at the National Ice Centre.
Panthers were at full strength and had David Beauregard once again deputising for the injured Pat Galivan, while Fife only iced eight imports.
They have only been going with ten, instead of the 11 permitted, but they have injuries to their American captain Casey Haines and Canadian forward Kris Hogg.
There was an open start with chances at both ends but gradually Panthers were able to exert their superiority – with six travel-weary Nottingham fans cheering them on.
But it took the visitors until the 13th minute to get on the scoresheet, following a penalty to Flyers' defenceman Kyle Horne.
Patience paid off for Panthers on the powerplay, with Francis roofing the puck past Bryan Pitton after good work from Jordan Fox.
And three minutes later, it was 2-0 with Clarke – who hit the game-winner against Sheffield at the weekend – cutting inside from the right to fire home, via a deflection, Matthew Myers and Steve Lee the helpers.
The one-way traffic continued but despite outshooting Flyers by a massive 18-2, there was no further scoring to the first break.
Panthers should really have increased the scoreline after continuing to dominate in the middle session but Fife managed to pull one back in the 27th minute.
Defenceman Zach Carriveau was the man on target, with a first-timer that whistled past Craig Kowalski.
Panthers had a great chance to restore their two-goal advantage on the half-hour mark when Scottish D-man Tommy Muir got a 2+2 minute penalty for a high stick, cutting Francis as he bore down on the Fife goal.
Another string of penalties followed but with Fife defending for their lives, Panthers failed to get their power-play to work.
And they were made to pay for their profligacy with Flyers' player-assistant coach Danny Stewart forcing home a close-range equaliser in the last minute of the period.
The third period went off at a frantic pace as the depleted Flyers, with nothing to lose, were giving as good as they were getting from the Elite League pacesetters.
But then, with ten minutes remaining, Ling showed his NHL pedigree with a wonderful finish.
A superb Jonathan Weaver pass from deep split the home defence and Ling took his time before he blasted home an accurate slap-shot that was too good for Pitton.
After penalties to either side went unrewarded, Panthers had a fright when Kowalski lost his stick but Flyers failed to get to the loose puck.
With little over three minutes remaining, a tripping penalty to Panthers' Steve Lee saw Flyers call a time-out.
But Panthers hung on to bring a one-goal lead back to Nottingham for the second leg next week at the National Ice Centre.
FIFE 2, PANTHERS 3
(0-2, 2-0, 0-1)
Clarke 1+1; Ling, Francis 1+0; Myers, Weaver, Benedict, Lee, Fox 0+1
Shots on goal: Fife (on Kowalski) 31, Panthers (on Pitton) 38 (2/18, 16/13, 13/7)
Penalty mins: Fife 12, Panthers 10 (2/0, 8/4, 2/6)
Panthers man of the match: David Ling
Referee: Neil Wilson
Attendance: 450 (est)